Just a few days ago, Napheesa Collier was part of a dynamic duo. On Wednesday night at Target Center, she was the Lone Ranger.
And it wasn't near enough.
Collier had a career night, but she didn't get enough help from her Lynx teammates in Minnesota's 90-75 loss to Connecticut in the third and deciding game of their WNBA first-round playoff series.
The Sun will move on to play New York in the WNBA semifinals, and the Lynx's season is over.
"It was exactly how we thought it would be," Collier said. "They were really intense in their pressure. They turned it up."
Getting double- and sometimes triple-teamed, Collier scored on all three levels. She scored a career-playoff-best 31 points. Against Connecticut's relentless defense, she made 11 of 19 shots, with five rebounds, two assists and a block. For a while, it seemed as if she was scoring every other Lynx point.
Afterward, Sun coach Stephanie White said Collier would one day be a WNBA MVP. To Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, she already is.
"Phee put the team on her back, repeatedly, this season," Reeve said. "Oftentimes, when she and [Kayla McBride] had games like Game 2, we were hard to beat."
That didn't happen Wednesday. White made the decision to put Rebecca Allen on McBride, and Allen's length (6-2) proved to be a problem. After scoring 28 points in an 82-75 Game 2 victory at Connecticut on Sunday, McBride struggled, scoring 10 on 3-for-12 shooting.
Other than Collier, the Lynx shot 15-for-41 and scored 44 points. Until late in a game already decided, Collier was the only Lynx player in double figures. Bridget Carleton scored 13.
Not so for Connecticut. Stars Alyssa Thomas (28 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) and DeWanna Bonner (25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) were again dominant. This time the Sun supporting cast came along for the ride, led by Tyasha Harris, who made four of six three-pointers and scored 18 points.
"The last game they both had big games, but we were able to control the supporting cast," Carleton said. "Tonight they were good and the supporting cast was, too."
While advancing to the league semifinals for the fifth consecutive season, the Sun shot 55.4% and made nine of 20 three-pointers.
Here's where the game was decided: Down 14 points during the opening quarter, the Lynx pulled within 26-19 entering the second. Then they scored the first six points of the second quarter to pull within one, forcing a Sun timeout.
Out of that timeout: game over.
From 7:55 left in the first half until the third quarter was just over three minutes old, the Sun outscored the Lynx 29-13 and went up 57-38 on Bonner's 26-foot three. The Lynx never got closer than 13 points again.
The Lynx overcame a lot this season. An 0-6 start. Injuries, including the loss of point guard Lindsay Allen. With several players playing out of position, the Lynx struggled offensively against Connecticut's pressure.
"We just didn't have enough offensively," Reeve said. "We couldn't get enough shots to go down. Credit to Connecticut's defense, making everything difficult for us."
But after a return to the playoffs after missing out last season, after having given rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász a season's worth of seasoning, with Collier having taken a huge step, there is reason for optimism in the future. In that way Wednesday's loss isn't just a disappointing end to this season, but a lesson to be taken into the next one.
"It's something we can take with us," Collier said. "This is what great defenses do. This is what it takes to get to the semifinals for a fifth time. I'm proud of what the team has done this year, the growth we had."